Ex-IDF chief and former Pentagon head say US-Israel defense pact not needed

Lt. Gen. (res.) Gadi Eisenkot says Jewish state fully capable of defending itself without an American treaty, though one could be useful if Iran goes nuclear

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

A US V-22 Osprey takes part in a training exercise during the joint Israeli-US military Juniper Cobra air defense drill at the Tzeelim urban warfare training center in southern Israel on March 12, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP)
A US V-22 Osprey takes part in a training exercise during the joint Israeli-US military Juniper Cobra air defense drill at the Tzeelim urban warfare training center in southern Israel on March 12, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP)

A former US secretary of defense and an ex-IDF chief of staff on Monday rejected a proposed America-Israeli mutual defense pact, saying such a measure was unnecessary.

In recent months, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has raised the prospect of a defense treaty between Jerusalem and Washington on several occasions.

On Monday evening, former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot brushed off the need for such a treaty at this time, during an event held by the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, where he recently became a fellow.

“This is not necessary, not when Israel is at its peak military capability, compared to its enemies. This is not something that it is correct to advance now. What is correct to advance now is the special relationship with the United States,” he said.

Then-IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, center, meets with the head of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, right, and Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, reversed, during a visit to southern Israel on December 20, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

“Israel is a very strong country and our enemies know that. We know how to respond to all the threats facing us in the near future,” Eisenkot said. “Israel defends itself with its own forces.”

The former IDF chief of staff, whose tenure ended in 2019, noted that two of the IDF’s most impressive military feats — the 1981 Operation Opera that destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor and the 2007 Operation Orchard that destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor — would likely never have occurred, had Israel been in a mutual defense pact with the United States at the time.

“And how would the Middle East have looked then?” he asked rhetorically.

Though the concept of a mutual defense pact has been raised several times over Israel’s 71-year history, Netanyahu breathed new life into the idea in the lead-up to September’s elections, and has since said he is pursuing the idea with US officials.

American officials have remained mostly mum about the idea. The general consensus among Israeli defense officials is that a true mutual defense pact, similar to the ones that the US has with other countries, could potentially bind Israel’s hands and prevent it from carrying out military actions it believes to be necessary for the Jewish state’s security.

However, Eisenkot said such a defense treaty could become necessary if Iran or other countries in the region acquired a nuclear bomb.

From left, former US secretary of defense Ash Carter, former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin and former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot speak at an event at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv on December 9, 2019. (INSS)

“Maybe if nuclear capabilities entered the Middle East, and there is an existential threat [to Israel], then maybe there is value in a treaty,” he said.

Former US secretary of defense Ash Carter, who was also taking part in the event, agreed that there was no need for a defense pact between the US and Israel, as both countries already see eye-to-eye.

“I think we — the US and Israel — can have a clear vision of our interests and know that while these interests are not identical they overlap substantially. That is better than any treaty: that understanding that we need each other,” said Carter, who served as defense secretary under US president Barack Obama from 2015 to 2017, and worked opposite Eisenkot.

“We work together well and effectively without having to write it down,” he added.

Former US defense secretary Ashton Carter speaks at a news conference at the Pentagon, September 30, 2015. (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Given the already robust US-Israel defense cooperation, formalizing it in a mutual defense treaty would bring little to no additional benefit, say many experts, including former top diplomats and defense officials.

Instead, these critics warn, it may hamper Israel’s freedom to act militarily and could include an obligation to send troops on overseas missions to fight America’s wars.

However, last month, Israel’s ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer claimed that the idea of a pact has the backing of senior Israeli defense officials, including IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat.

Neither official has publicly confirmed their support for the idea.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed
Register for free
and continue reading
Registering also lets you comment on articles and helps us improve your experience. It takes just a few seconds.
Already registered? Enter your email to sign in.
Please use the following structure:
Or Continue with
By registering you agree to the terms and conditions. Once registered, you’ll receive our Daily Edition email for free.
Register to continue
Or Continue with
Log in to continue
Sign in or Register
Or Continue with
check your email
Check your email
We sent an email to you at .
It has a link that will sign you in.